Xbox Game Pass, is it still relevant? Is it gonna deliver us some exclusive title that will flock a lot of subscribers to itself? Let’s see whether we can find these answers. Redfall, Xbox’s latest splashy exclusive, launched this week to mixed reviews and a collective shrug from many players. Its most perplexing flaw is perhaps its lack of identity, which is a departure from developer Arkane’s core strengths of worldbuilding and stealth gameplay. Many people have said that it feels like a game that isn’t sure what it wants to be.
Of course, Xbox’s grand gaming strategy is more than just one underwhelming exclusive, and the console manufacturer’s biggest game of the year, Starfield, is still to come. However, Xbox’s shaky track record with big exclusives in recent years has sparked much debate in the gaming community, with some Game Pass subscribers wondering what the service’s future might look like.
To be fair to Microsoft, Xbox Game Pass contains a plethora of high-quality exclusives. The Forza series is still arguably the best racing series in gaming, Pentiment is one of the most striking narrative titles in recent memory, Psychonauts 2 is a fantastic platformer, and Hi-Fi Rush surprised everyone with its unique take on the rhythm game formula. You could argue that none of these games have the scale and mass appeal of a Spider-Man or a God of War.
Halo Infinite, the game that many expected to bridge that gap, is perhaps the most eloquent example of Xbox’s blockbuster woes. Though Infinite received almost universally positive reviews upon release, with critics and players praising its campaign in particular, the lack of follow-through on its ambitious live-service aspects cost the game a long-term audience.
The high-profile layoffs that followed, as well as an announcement that served as bizarre proof of life, complicated matters even more. It’s unclear whether Infinite will ever recover from its rocky post-launch period. However, it should not be completely dismissed; after all, it is Halo.
What makes Xbox’s current state of affairs so vexing for many players is that it has arguably one of the industry’s best things going: Game Pass.
With hundreds of games available, almost any player with a quick perusal of its app can find several titles they’re interested in. Similarly to the early days of streaming, Game Pass has amassed millions of subscribers thanks to its impressive catalog. However, the main issue with the service is that the vast majority of those games are not produced by Xbox, and players can access them elsewhere. At the moment, Game Pass is a unique value proposition, but that could change in the coming years.
The pending acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft, which would be the largest deal in gaming history, appears to be Microsoft’s apparent response to these concerns. However, given that the process has faced legal challenges after a legal challenge in recent months, it’s unclear whether it will be able to overcome those obstacles.
With an uncertain future ahead, it may be time for Xbox to reconsider its “hands-off” approach to studio management. Whatever the specific changes are, something has to give when it comes to its blockbusters. Perhaps Starfield can calm the waters.
In just a few days, gamers all over the world will experience Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for the first time, and it will be a cultural phenomenon not to be missed. Gamers will trade recipes, strategies, and viral videos for weeks (or, in the case of Breath of the Wild, years).
The next Forza will undoubtedly be a fantastic driving game, but it is unlikely to set the world on fire. Starfield might, but Redfall’s underwhelming debut only adds to Bethesda’s pressure to create a worthy successor to great series like Elder Scrolls and Fallout.